It has been a busy week for ex–Union-Tribune publisher Douglas Manchester, what with putting prepublication spin on a Washington Post profile about his relationships with women and jetting back and forth to Austin, Texas, to hasten the grand opening of his long-delayed hotel there.
Meanwhile, San Diego insiders are waiting to see if mega-millionaire Manchester, who is president Donald Trump's ambassadorial nominee to the Bahamas, comes up with sufficient scratch for the local tourist industry's efforts to put a hefty room-tax boost on the ballot.
According to proponents, the tax increase is needed to expand the downtown convention center yet again, as well as to alleviate the homeless crisis that has plagued the area for years.
Manchester, who is still seeking someone to lend him a nine-figure sum for construction of his massive downtown Navy-Broadway complex, would normally seem a virtually certain backer of the ballot bid, though he has promised to resign his role as Navy-Broadway developer if confirmed by the Senate as ambassador.
But odds of that happening anytime soon, if at all, may have changed as a result of the February 17 story by the Post, portraying what the paper called Manchester's "unsettling management style" with women while running the U-T.
A Union-Tribune story posted the day before quoted from an email sent by Manchester to the Post as well as to Trump associates, in which the ex-U-T publisher laid blame for "uncomfortable or demeaned" employees under his Union-Tribune watch at the feet of others.
"While I was chairman of the U-T San Diego, I became aware of egregious mistakes made by staff members,” wrote Manchester, per the U-T’s account. “When they were brought to my attention, I immediately took appropriate action.”
U-T editor and publisher Jeff Light, who served under Manchester, piled on against the unnamed underlings, per the U-T story. “My take on the Manchester years was that he hired some people of low competence, and in some cases low character, I think, who damaged the U-T and damaged Manchester’s reputation and squandered the business opportunity,” opined Light.
With the impending takeover of the Los Angeles Times and its sister U-T by L.A. billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Post’s exposé has materialized at a delicate time for Manchester’s ex-employees, including Light, who remain at the paper.
Asked in a video interview posted on the U-T’s Facebook page before the Post’s revelations whether he could predict what the Soon-Shiong regime would bring, Light responded, "Well, the answer truthfully is no. I haven't talked to Patrick about his vision. That sort of comes off as an alarming statement. You know, I think people could expect that any buyer is investing in the products that we know, right? Which is something that serves the local community, that seeks the truth, that tries to hold people accountable in the community and celebrate its successes. That's the basic product. I would not see any departure from that."
As for Manchester, whose ambassadorship has already been put on hold for a year by the Senate, the spate of negative DC ink appears unlikely to change the status quo, with the result that the wealthy GOP kingpin may ultimately end up staying home in his traditional political stomping grounds.
So far, San Diego hotel-tax proponents have come up with just $299,712 in campaign funds per disclosures with the city clerk's office, with the most significant single donor at $81,250 being Host Hotels & Resorts, owner of the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel, built by and named for Manchester. Millions more are said to be necessary to put the measure before voters and persuade them to approve the tax boost in November, making Manchester's role potentially pivotal.
Funding for the proposition may have to be especially heavy in light of the lack of enthusiasm expressed by well-heeled non-union contractors represented by a group calling itself the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.
"San Diego news media is rightfully asking the head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Building and Construction Trades Council if campaign leaders for [the] proposed tax measure have promised a Project Labor Agreement guaranteeing unions a monopoly on construction jobs," said a February 6 statement. "Tom Lemmon (head of the Building Trades) is being coy and claims a deal hasn’t been cut yet."
1300 miles away, a similar battle for convention-center expansion is ramping up in Texas, where Manchester and his son (also named Douglas) await the opening of their troubled Fairmont Austin hotel.
“The convention center is turning away about half of the conventions that want to come to Austin. We just simply don’t have the space in Austin to be able to accommodate those who want to give us money to come visit our city and conduct their business,” Austin Chamber of Commerce spokesman Drew Scheberle told KXAN-TV last month.
Noted the station's report: "It’s an argument KXAN has reported on before, but despite repeated questioning and public information requests submitted to Austin’s convention and visitors bureau for a list of what groups they’ve had to turn away, KXAN has not seen any proof." The Austin City Council is expected to take up the matter in October.